Phoebe Putney case makes it to the U.S. Supreme Court

From the Associated Press:

The Supreme Court will decide whether government officials who testify falsely while acting as a complaining witness have absolute immunity from civil lawsuits.

The high court on Monday agreed to hear an appeal from Charles Rehberg, who sent faxes criticizing the Phoebe Putney Health System, an influential Georgia hospital system.

Rehberg was arrested after investigator James Paulk of the Dougherty County District Attorney’s office testified to a grand jury that the accountant had harassed doctors.

Paulk, who started the investigation as a favor to hospital officials, later said he had no evidence and had not talked to any witnesses. The charges were dismissed.

Rehberg sued, but Paulk says he is protected by immunity because the claims took place while he was working as a government official.
Rehberg and Dr. John Bagnato, a prominent surgeon, also sued Ken Hodges, who was then the Dougherty County District Attorney and later unsuccessfully ran for state attorney general.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the former prosecutor couldn’t be sued. The high court appeal only deals with Paulk, however.

Rehberg settled his defamation lawsuit with Phoebe Putney for an undisclosed amount.

The court will hear the case later this year.

The case is Rehberg v. Paulk, 10-788.

The incident dates back to 2003. A 55-minute documentary, called “Do No Harm,” was released in 2009, though Georgia Public Broadcasting declined to air it.

Also note that Ken Hodges, who lost his Democratic contest to Republican Sam Olens in November, is not a party in the U.S. Supreme Court case.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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20 comments Add your comment


March 21st, 2011
7:52 pm

Thanks for the followup on this corruption case. These things make no news between election cycles.

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Augusta

March 21st, 2011
7:54 pm

Might this case have civil implications for several GA public school officials?


March 21st, 2011
8:35 pm

I’ve read parts of the brief and I can’t believe this isn’t front page news on the AJC. It would make a great story. Those whistleblowers were railroaded. I watched clips from the Do No Harm web site too and can’t imagine Legendary attorney Booby Lee Cook saying it’s the craziest case he’s every seen if it wasn’t true. This needs a front page investigative story.

Winfield J. Abbe

March 21st, 2011
9:54 pm

In Georgia, the wrong folks have immunity from claims; local government officials, judges, district attorneys, county attorneys, gutless education administrators, even hospital officials who are permitted to use the full military force and power of government to keep secrets about medical negligence, police corruption, educational corruption, etc. Unwitting citizens cannot even find out what hospitals and doctors to avoid. Georgia loves secrecy and immunity for its incompetents running government. This is exactly why government is so bad here.
The law should be changed to demand all government officials be sued personally and deny them any right to use public tax money for their defense. They should be forced to have liability insurance just like anyone else. And if it can be demonstrated that any government official is obviously violating the constitution they “swore” to uphold, they should be jailed immediately with no appeal allowed and fined $1000 per day personally just like they routinely impose on citizens for trivial offenses. A randomly chosen citizen’s committee would made the determination if they violated the constitution, with no lawyers or judges permitted to be on it. Let’s stop this nonsense of elevating government employees to monarchy. They go to the bathroom just like you and I. They cheat also. But they have special rules for them which do not apply to ordinary citizens. Examples, look at the slap on the wrist for the recent local and federal judges who violated the law. A local superior court judge caught having sex in his car in an abandoned subdivision with a public defender was allowed to quietly resign. This is outrageous. The federal judge got a slap on the wrist and will receive almost $200K a year pension.
Wake up Georgians. How do you like being shafted by your govenrment?

Alabama Communist

March 21st, 2011
11:52 pm

No doubt if you work for any Government, you are entitle to destroy it’s citizens without due process! Some people call it a Police State, others like the Republicans or some corporate democrats call it national security even if it is in a South Georgia swamp………


March 22nd, 2011
4:13 am

So what ’s the problem? The people of Georgia allow this in their state. Duh…..

Logic 88

March 22nd, 2011
5:47 am

For the record, please note that Ken Hodges is a DEMOCRAT.

Big surprise.

tyrone from east point

March 22nd, 2011
6:24 am

Winfield J. Abbe is spot on.


March 22nd, 2011
6:26 am

Also for the record aren’t the Republicans hiding behind sovereign immunity.


March 22nd, 2011
7:02 am

Hey. Logic 88, you’re not too logical. Republicans practically invented the concept of Sovereign Immunity. Well, certainly the rich did. Actually, the King of England did. It essentially comes from the idea that you can’t sue the King because the King can do no wrong. Republican Governors and their appointees all over this country avail themselves of that immunity from lawsuits each and every day iun this country and have done so for rmany years.

Legal Eagle

March 22nd, 2011
8:10 am

While Hodges was set free by the 11th Circuit opinion, a finding for Rehberg in this case will set the stage for Hodges to be pulled back in. Hodges was only released by virtue of the appeals court finding that Hodges could not be a “conspirator” in the scheme for Paulk to give false testimony if Paulk enjoyed immunity for his perjury. So, if the SCOTUS says Paulk CAN be held responsible for his false testimony, then Ken Hodgs CAN be be a conspirator, and thus can (and surely will)become a party once again. This will indeed be a landmark case.

Capitol Hack

March 22nd, 2011
8:59 am

Meanwhile, the General Assembly sets a record for the least productive day in history yesterday. Of the two resolutions on their calendar, the House passed only one. The Senate defeated the single bill on their own calendar. With an extremely light committee schedule this week, it’s apparent that Spring Fever has set in, with legislators showing little inclination to work. This is certainly shaping up to be the least productive session in memory. Maybe they’ll give up the facade soon, just call it quits and go on home.

Buzz G

March 22nd, 2011
9:00 am

Government officials should not have immunity for lawsuits. When they abuse their power, as many frequently do, they should be held accountable.

Down in Albany

March 22nd, 2011
2:33 pm

Legal Eagle: I hope you are correct. Paulk was a pawn in this corruption. Hodges and Phoebe execs were the masterminds. It’s about time they were cut down to size. By the way, not a word of this in the local paper, The Albany Herald. Disappointing.


March 22nd, 2011
3:06 pm

Anyone who knows Jim Paulk knows that he has no integrity and is a pathological liar.
As for Ken Hodges, he’s a vindictive man who, while small in stature, carries big grudges.
The voters turned him out of office, hopefully for good, in November.


March 22nd, 2011
3:42 pm

@ Down in Albany: I was surprised how hard you had to search the WALB website to find the story mentioning this.

just some dude

March 22nd, 2011
9:03 pm

You can watch the “Do No Harm” doc on hulu:

just some dude

March 22nd, 2011
9:04 pm


March 23rd, 2011
8:17 am

I finally watched the documentary last night, thanks for the hulu link. All I can say is, how is that guy still running Phoebe?

Down in Albany

March 23rd, 2011
1:05 pm

Engineer: That’s what we keep asking ourselves down in Albany!